My daughters are 3 and 5 years old, so they love nothing more than poking about in the undergrowth looking for creepy crawlies. One of the best things about having children is that you have an excuse to join in with this sort of thing. This week we’ve found loads of caterpillars, and not just the usual ‘get the $&@% off my brassicas’ sort.
Find number one was a little brown fella that was on one of my onions. He is a Bright-Line Brown-Eye moth caterpillar (Lacanobia oleracea. I think it must have been say-what-you-see day when his common name was dished out). I’ve been told that the dark spot at the back might be a parasite so we’ll see if Little Brownie makes it to adulthood or explodes in a scene reminiscent of the movie Alien.
Find number two was spotted by me while I was cutting off some chard leaves to make pesto. She is fairly massive and freaky-looking so of course we captured her to gawk at her fuzzy face. At least we know what she eats and going by the size of her, she surely must be close to pupating (is that a word? It is now). I think she might be a Buff Ermine Moth (Spilosoma lutea) caterpillar, being the inevitable result of this:
Two moths getting busy
Another great thing about having children is that you can get them to do most jobs around the garden as long as you make it into a game (works best on under 7s). So the girls spent a good 15 minutes playing ‘who can put the most caterpillars in the garden waste bin’.
Sneaky ninja masters of disguise caterpillars
OK, OK, it’s not nice. But it’s organic. The girls did a great job of clearing the Large (Pieris brassicae) and Small White (Pieris rapae) caterpillars off my Christmas dinner and into the bin, which is known to them as the ‘snail party bin’. Yes, I lie to my children that the snails are going to a big party to make them collect them up and put them in the bin. It’s not that bad. I’m pretty sure they don’t actually believe it.
Easier to spot but good at hiding, and much hungrier
Anyone who’s ever grown brassicas will know how destructive cabbage white caterpillars can be. If you don’t have any small children and there are none nearby that you can borrow (check with their parents first), then there are other ways to deal with caterpillars organically.
You can manually remove eggs and caterpillars from plants. This is only practical if you have just a few plants though.
You can net plants to prevent butterflies from landing on them. This is pretty effective and doesn’t cost loads.
You can plant nasturtiums as a sacrificial crop. You can either plant it next to your brassicas and then remove leaves with caterpillars or eggs on, or you can plant it somewhere else and let the caterpillars live their lives in peace, far away from your beloved caulis.
I do have a caterpillar patch in my garden, I don’t mind a few garden ‘pests’. Could be worse.
If any of my IDs are wrong, please let me know. I’m not an entomologist. I had to look that up just to make sure I was spelling it right.